Read the first installment before proceeding:
Entering a jail cell-block is like coming to a party, a party where you don’t know anyone. I was forcibly invited to this particular party by a Hannibal cop who works for the city.
The door to D-Block was unlocked for me by one of the invisible jailers who presumably inhabit the Bubble, a central room surrounded radially by what they call “pods” for some reason, another term for cell-block. Two-way mirrored glass lets the jailers see into the pods without the inmates being able to see the jailers.
D-Block was an all-white collection of muscular and bare-chested miscreants, all of whom but one were about half my age. Most of them were engaged in a lively game of hackey-sack. This surprised me; I first encountered hackey-sack way back in the seventies. Back then it was a common hippie recreation and I had the impression that the game originated in the hippies’ homeland, the West Coast. Thinking about this I realized that during the intervening decades many hippies have been to prison, often for drug offenses. I gathered from my fellow inmates that hackey-sack is very common in prisons and jails these days.
Why might this be? The game requires a bare minimum of equipment, for one thing. Just a three-inch by one-and-one-half-inch stitched-together cloth pouch filled with rice, beans, or any sort of granular substance. A hackey-sack is basically a small bean-bag, and the game is played by propelling the sack into the air using the sides of your feet. The idea is to keep the sack in the air for as long as possible. The game isn’t competitive and no scores are kept.
One player was obviously the cell-block maestro of the game; he was a young guy with amazingly intricate tattoos covering his torso and arms. After the game I asked him where they got their sack.
“Well, when an inmate is about to be released, and before they turn in their clothing and towels, we’ll rip off the front pocket from their coveralls; that pocket is just the right size for a hackey-sack. Someone will save the rice from a meal and dry it out on a windowsill, and that will be the filling. String is used to stitch the sack up. A hackey-sack generally will last about three months — we use ’em pretty hard!”
A jail inmate lives for novelty, whether it’s a meal or a new inmate. After I had deposited my newly-sanitized but rather thin mattress and towels, etc. in my new cell, the other nine inmates gathered around me.
“Hey, man, what’re ya in for?”
I was a bit embarrassed at the triviality of the charges against me:
“Oh, my dog got out.”
“They arrested you for that?!”
“I didn’t show up for a court date — but I was never informed about it!”
“Ah, they do that all the time — once they have it in for ya, they can just make up warrants and not tell you. What was your bond set at?”
“They’ll let you out once you’ve been to court. It’s a shame for you that it’s Labor Day weekend!”
Once you are in jail the time just drags. Each cell-block has a single electrical outlet behind the wall-mounted TV. The inmates who have been in the block the longest tend to take control of the cable channels, so while we watched movies at times, mostly we watched fighting shows and dismal spectacles such as monster truck rallies. I did enjoy seeing the Quentin Tarantino film “Pulp Fiction” with commentary from my fellow inmates, felons all, who made comments such as “I did that one time!” and “I saw an overdose worse than this one!”
The remainder of this account consists of a series of vignettes. It is such a shame that they don’t allow inmates to have cameras!
It is understandable that inmates aren’t allowed to have scissors or knives. Electric barber shears are available when requested, though, and one day I watched from the bacony as the tattooed kid who was so good at hackey-sack gave haircuts and beard-trims to any other resident of the cell-block who wanted one. He was a meticulous barber; at one point he looked up at me and said “Hey, Larry, ya want a haircut?” I demurred, as I’ve cut my own hair and beard for the past thirty years, but I appreciated the offer.
[to be continued…]